8 Jun 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition
AUSTRALIAN Masorti rabbis and Jewish communal figures have welcomed Conservative Judaism’s decision to issue guidelines for its rabbis to conduct same-sex commitment ceremonies.
But groups representing the Jewish Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender or Intersex (GLBTI) communities, while endorsing the move, noted it fell short of a fully fledged gay chuppah. Gay marriage is not legal in Australia.
The Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the American organisation for Conservative (Masorti) rabbis, voted last week in favour of issuing the rules under which its rabbis can conduct these ceremonies.
It follows the RA’s decision six years ago to allow its rabbis to officiate at same-sex ceremonies if they wished.
The RA has published two sets of guidelines, for ceremonies that more closely resemble a marriage, and for those that are more distinct from marriage.
Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins of Emanuel Synagogue in Sydney, who has officiated at a same-sex commitment ceremony in Australia, welcomed the decision “which supports civil rights and equal rights for all Jews, regardless of their sexual orientation”.
Rabbi Adam Stein of Kehilat Nitzan in Melbourne said he was glad his movement approved same-sex ceremonies in 2006 and that it has now issued guidelines, but he would need to consult with Nitzan’s board before conducting such a ceremony. John Rosenberg, a founder of Kehilat Nitzan, told The AJN the guidelines are a positive move. “Masorti Judaism strongly supports inclusion and I think this is a wonderful move towards inclusion for all members of our community. But Rabbi Stein will need to provide guidance for the congregation in terms of what we do.”
Michael Barnett, convenor of GLBTI support group Aleph Melbourne, welcomed the guidelines, but called for a commitment ceremony to be made available to heterosexual couples. “Separate is not equal. With the Conservative Jewish movement creating a special class of religious marriage ceremony for same-sex couples, despite the positive message given by the recognition of these relationships, they are sending the message that the relationships between same-sex couples are second class and not equal to that of heterosexual couples.”
In Sydney, GLBTI support group Dayenu’s acting president, Kim Gotlieb, saw it as “a wonderful step forward in legitimising the loving bond and commitment that many same-sex couples feel for one another”, but noted that “kedushin” – the concept of a sanctified Jewish marriage – continues to be excluded from the ceremony. “However, the Masorti and Progressive synagogues in this country are poised to provide gay marriage, whenever the groundswell of public support manages to convince our politicians to move into line with prevailing international trends.”
[ Clarification: the reference to commitment ceremonies for heterosexual couples was printed out of context. It was submitted to the paper by way of comparison, in relation to Progressive Judaism in Australia currently offering same-sex Jewish couples a commitment ceremony, but denying this option to those heterosexual couples who would like religious recognition of their relationship but who do not want to get married. — Michael Barnett ]